Western Wall Tunnels - introduction
The western wall Tunnels, or ‘Kotel Tunnels’, run along the hidden continuation of the Western wall. The tunnels pass underneath the Muslim Quarter which was built above the remaining Second Temple western wall by using a series of arches and pathways, thus creating a tunnel space in between the ground of the Muslim Quarter and the ancient Second Temple period ground. Excavations which began in the mid-19th century revealed artifacts, water reservoirs, building blocks and even roads from the Herodian and Roman Empire periods circa first century. The Western Stone that was discovered here during the excavations is a true mystery of the Western Wall. It is a huge monolithic stone that weighs 517 tons and measures more than 40 feet. Evidently, it is the largest stone ever quarried by Man. Beyond their archeological and historical significance, the tunnels bare religious significance. Inside the tunnel is the closest spot accessible to Jews to where the Second Temple ‘Holy of Holies’ once stood. As such, the tunnels have become a site of prayer and spirituality.
About the Western Wall or 'Kotel'
The holiest site in the world for Jews, the Western Wall, Hakotel Hammaravi in Hebrew (Kotel means 'Wall' in Hebrew), is the highlight of many tours in Israel. Its history dates back 2000 years ago, when it was part of a vast renovation project of the Second Temple, initiated by King Herod. Today, The Western Wall is a center of mourning over the destruction of the Temple and Israel's exile. The sea of tears that poured upon the Western Wall for over 2000 years has entitled it by the name ''The Wailing Wall''. According to Jewish tradition, from the Western Wall the prayers ascend directly to heaven. For that very reason, it became custom for Jews hereto write their prayers and wishes on small notes and hide them in between the cracks of the ancient stones.
The actual Kotel, or wall, was built as a retaining wall that supported Second Temple enclosure. As the only remainder of the Second Temple,which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 BC, the Western Wall became the highest point of Jewish pilgrimage, where Jews can mourn over the ruin of the Second Temple. The Western Wall and the Kotel Tunnels, are the closest place to the 'Holy of Holies' which stood in the Second Temple on the Temple Mount. For these reasons, It is regarded as an eternal symbol of the Jewish-Israeli nation.
Through the course of time, the Western Wall passed through the hands of different rulers and periods including: Turkish-Ottoman period, the British mandate and the nineteen years from 1948 to 1967 when it was under Jordanian rule and Jews were forbidden to enter. The Western Wall returned to Jewish hands after the Six Day War, in July 7,1967 when the Israeli paratroopers, followed by Mota Gur entered this sacred place and cried: ‘’The Temple Mount is in our hands!’’. The photo of the three Israeli paratroopers, standing beside the Western Wall shedding their tears became a symbol of the entire Israeli nation. It is believed that from here the divine presence has never departed.
The stones of the Western Wall are designed in a typical Herodian style: they support one another without cement and are kept in place by sheer weight. The total height of the Wall from its foundation is estimated at 105 feet. The Wall consists of 45 stone courses, 28 of them above ground and 17 underground.
The Western Wall Plaza accommodates thousands of visitors and worshipers everyday. On special occasions and Jewish holidays it can house over 50,000 worshipers at once. It is quite overwhelming to witness thousands of Jews that gather here together to pray and make their secret wishes.
Visiting the Western Wall requires modest dressing for men and women and the plaza is divided into two sections: men and women, as to reduce the occurrence of improper thoughts during the prayer. The Western Wall is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The Western Wall is never deserted and you can always see Jews praying by its side.
It seems like everyone has their own intimate way to relate to the ancient stones of the Kotel or Western WAll. Whether their prayer is individual or communal,it’s deeply felt in this place.